Le Soleil Puts A New Shine on the Neighborhood
By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
Warm, cozy, elegant, and impeccably designed, Le Soleil in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood is a United States branch of the Michelin-rated Hong Kong restaurant located in the five-star Royal Garden Hotel in Kowloon. A shining example of a family business done right, this little restaurant is owned and operated by Dennis and Annie Wong, a remarkable pair of achievers who have meticulously followed their own high standards in food, service, and ambience for nearly 20 years.
Recently remodeled and reopened, the beloved dining spot in the lively pedestrian district attracts loyal neighborhood customers. Newcomers are tipped off by the culinary awards and patrons’ accolades given to Chef Dennis’s “new Vietnamese cuisine” with French and Pan-Asian influences.
On any given night the sleek minimalist dining room decorated with dark carved wood, shiny geometrical accents, live orchids, and cultural artifacts fills out fast. Most of the groups and couples who enter the restaurant are greeted by Annie as regulars (and indeed they are) who know what they crave without looking at the menu.
My dining companion and I had to ask our gracious server, also a Wong family member, for advice, and we were glad we did.
Our fresh spring roll with barbecue pork, lettuce, and cucumber wrapped in silky rice paper was served with chili fish sauce and bursting with flavor.
A crispy and sun-yellow turmeric crepe made with mung beans and coconut milk was stuffed with mushrooms, tofu, grated vegetables, and bean sprouts and served alongside wide lettuce leaves and fresh mint. Following our server’s instructions, we wrapped salad leaves around chunks of crepe, added some mint, and dipped the entire thing in soy, vinegar, and chili sauce for a rewarding bite.
Next we indulged in a mini-circus when our rum-soaked quail was set on fire table side then extinguished, leaving the bird enticingly seared and oozing with juices. Pouring a scoop of lemon-pepper sauce over it brought this sophisticated appetizer to pure perfection.
A cup of spicy chicken coconut soup had all the comfort of combined chicken broth and coconut milk, plus just enough heat to counter the texture of mushrooms and the mild perfume of lemongrass.
Caramelized sea bass, glazed in soy and garnished with Brussels sprouts and jasmine rice, was unbelievably tender and juicy with a crispy outer layer.
Finally, the king of main courses, garlic-roasted Dungeness crab came whole with bright and decorative shell and claws, pan-fried in browned butter and loads of garlic, and placed atop egg noodles studded with bits of egg, scallions, bamboo shoots, ginger, and chili flakes.
In the beautiful Le Soleil, everything invites you to linger. You have to wrap and dip your crepe, peel your crab, and when it comes to dessert, you really need to indulge.
A traditional Vietnamese sweet concoction is described on the menu as a triple-layer sundae, but it’s a thing of richer flavors than the name implies. Delectable coconut ice cream is placed in a glass mug and topped with red beans, green mung bean jelly, and coconut milk. You can mix it up and eat it with a spoon or wait until it melts and drink it with a straw. Either way it’s irresistible.
Another great dessert is crème brûlée flavored with Vietnamese coffee. Who could ask for anything more?
Le Soleil carries a decent wine and beer list and an engaging array of non-alcoholic beverages. There are also several varieties of Asian hot teas such as the Burmese Pink Rose Bud tea, which is served in a tea pot decorated with a little rose bud, adding a nice touch and yet another little testament to the owners’ appreciation for design and attention to detail.
Le Soleil Restaurant is located at 133 Clement in San Francisco, California. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Monday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. For more information or reservations, call (415) 668-4848.